Grapefruit and Sundaes

She wasn’t a warm or doting person, I don’t think it was anything personal, it just wasn’t her nature. Gruff, no-nonsense, and strict are apt descriptors. When I recall my time as a grade three student, complete with my terrible mullet and gangly arms and legs, my memories include learning the Canadian provinces and capitals, cursive writing, long division, and her. Miss Van Gurp. 

She had a reputation for being mean. Haven’t we all had that teacher? The one the kids whisper about on the playground and warn you to avoid? The teacher you hope you don’t have. The teacher you inevitably get.

Miss Van Gurp didn’t put up with antics. She indeed was strict, to the point of smacking hands with a metal ruler if you really stepped out of line (the rumours were true!). She wasn’t a smiler and she demanded compliance. She was not an adult who doled out hugs or high fives. You were expected to do your work and you simply received a quiet nod for a job well done.

Students often forget that teachers have multiple sides and aspects to their lives and characters. We all tend to forget that about each other, don’t we? We put people into boxes and categories, unaware of the subtext of people’s actions and words.

Recently a post popped up in my social media feed of a citrus fruit fundraiser for an elementary school and it reminded me of a story from years ago.

Once there was a young girl in grade three who had a sick sister. Her parents were frequently out of the country to provide their daughter with the medical care she needed. The girl and her other siblings spent days and sometimes weeks staying with various caring family friends. 

Soon it was time for the annual school fundraiser – citrus sales. Every student who sold a box of fruit would receive an ice cream sundae, the kind in the plastic cup with the little wooden spoon. 

The girl’s parents were out of town during this time and even if they were home, she wouldn’t have pursued citrus sales. Even at the age of eight, she knew she wouldn’t put that on to their overcrowded plate. That’s just the way it was then, it wouldn’t be forever. Next year.

A few days into the sale, her teacher called her up to her desk at the front of the room. She had a sales slip half filled out with a grapefruit order. 

“I’d like to get a box of grapefruit, could I buy it from you?” she asked, barely lifting her eyes up from the ink blotter.

The girl hardly knew what to say, but she knew what this meant. She would get to partake in the sundae celebration, just like all the other kids. In the midst of family upheaval and crisis, she would have this little bit of normalcy.

“Okay,” was all that squeaked out. The teacher completed the form, then carefully separated the carbon copies: white for the school, yellow for the salesperson, and pink for the customer.

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” she said gruffly as she handed the girl the pink page, “you may go to your seat now.”

In a giddy daze the girl went back to her desk. 

A fews later when the sales were completed, she proudly collected her ice cream treat with the rest of the school. It was chocolate, of course. She carefully peeled back the cardboard cover and she licked that plastic dish clean.

Sometimes “I see you. You matter. I care,” sounds a lot like “I’d like to buy some grapefruit.” You just have to listen.

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Everyone Matters

The school my husband and I teach at has an unofficial motto, “Everyone Matters”. We encounter situations and behaviours daily that can challenge this credo. Recently, Bearded Husband wrote a journal entry for a course he is taking. He was asked to respond to his quote:

“Creating a non-threatening environment in which students are emotionally and physically safe has a significant impact on student learning and achievement.” Marzano (2003)

I’m proud to teach with this man and to have his words shared here. Thank you to my fellow teachers for the dedication you bring to your job, even when it’s tiring, even when you want to give up. You matter.

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It can be a tough process in life. We all have a basic need for it. Identity issues or a negative sense of self can arise if we don’t have a deep sense of it. Without it, we don’t function as we were meant to – we fall apart; we ache; we hurt others.

A sense of belonging.

If one lacks a feeling of belonging, it can negatively influence who we are, how we act, how we treat others. As educators, we are called to ensure that students in our care feel safe, secure, and valued. That they belong. We want students to have the courage to be authentic and put themselves out there. To feel like they’re allowed to be imperfect, that they don’t always need to be right. To realize that it’s okay to struggle, to feel imperfect. That’s important. We foster that attitude through our actions, words and beliefs.

Teachers matter to student achievement more than any other aspect of schooling. Us. We matter. Our knowledge, our skill, our leadership, our commitment to students. We develop students’ potential to become contributing citizens of our society by modelling care, trust, respect, and integrity. We are called to ensure our learning communities are safe. We want students to see themselves as an important part of a diverse community of learners where differences are valued – where it’s okay to display our strengths and needs. We all want to feel included. To belong.

Coming to this realization has made me a better teacher. It’s a tall task to meet a child’s basic needs. I encounter children daily who may not feel safe for several reasons: they are bogged down with problems related to financial distress, family dysfunction, health and well-being concerns, and neglect. I’m proud to say I’m part of a school team that does our best to alleviate these worries by providing programs beyond the call of duty. Attendance is a real issue for some. But we know that students are less likely to miss school if they feel safe. A big part of that is up to me.

Through reflection and dialogue with colleagues I continually refine my teaching practice. I try to be sensitive to the factors that influence student learning. As a teacher, I do my best to provide a non-threatening environment to relieve students’ anxiety and tension. I encourage students to take risks, to speak their ideas, to feel like they belong and are valued.  I foster this through my actions and words – by modelling it. We engage regularly in class meetings, we set fair but firm expectations together. We seek ways to put others first by volunteering our time and effort. But ultimately, it’s up to me to set the tone. So I establish high expectations and insist they be met. I treat students equitably and with respect. I take time to establish a sense of trust. I ask students to focus on what we can do for others rather than on what we can “get” from doing something. I find effective resources to plan for and respond to the needs of individual students and learning communities. I provide whatever accommodations necessary to enable them to succeed. I do these things because I want my students to grow and learn and achieve more. I want them to have a chance to succeed in life. So I do what I can to create a sense of belonging.

We’re all in our own little communities with people who aren’t the same. Being different needs to be seen as a good thing. We all have strengths and needs different from each other. Everyone matters.

We are all worthy of belonging.

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It’s Just Preschool

Preschool graduations. I admit, I have always thought they were a bit ridiculous.

It’s just preschool. They are starting out their school lives. How can one graduate when one is just beginning?

They come in children sizes, but should they?
They come in children sizes, but should they?

It’s just preschool. Why do we need to have ceremonies for this? Not everything has to be a big deal.

It is just preschool. They basically played all year.

What was the curriculum? Painting, gluing, singing, counting.

They just learned to share, listen, take turns, develop fine motor skills.

They only learned how to make friends, keep friends, speak clearly, open their own snacks. Print their name. Be away from mom and dad.

Why are we celebrating this past year? It’s just preschool after all.

Just preschool, where their teachers invested in their young lives as they ate their playdoh cookies. It was one or two mornings per week where they were stretched to try new things and think outside of their own experiences. Sitting at the carpet taught them mutual respect and how to follow a new routine. Planting bean seeds in paper towels and baggies fostered wonder and a sense of nurturing.

Maybe graduations aren’t necessary, but big things happen throughout our lives and they need to be marked. I think we’ve gotten carried away with graduations in particular (preschool, kindergarten, grade six, grade 8, grade 12, need I go on?) but reflecting on a year of growth and learning? That matters.

Pausing to say good-bye to a season of education or a milestone of life, let’s keep doing that. Minus the formal wear.

Even if it’s just preschool.

(Thank you, teachers of all grade levels. What you do matters and we are grateful).

Robotic Teacher Agents – Guest Post by Ricky Anderson

Today is a BIG DEAL.

My first guest blogger! Ricky Anderson is funny. No, not funny, really REALLY funny. Still not enough. He is super really funny. Nope. Hilarious. Yes, hilarious. See for yourself over at his blog www.rickyanderson.net or on twitter @Arthur2Sheds or why not both?

Ricky is not nearly the procrastinator he makes himself out to be. Thought I’d have a lot of nagging ahead of me, but he got this post done in a timely manner. Ricky, you ARE special. Well done, Ricky’s mom.

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It’s time we talked about it.

Everyone’s been thinking it for years, but until now it’s been the topic nobody wanted to bring up.

Robots.

You’ve failed us, Science. You pretend to know everything, what with your Mars rovers and particle destroyers and anti-aging creams.

But the truth is – you’re stuck. You promised us robots. From The Jetsons to I, Robot to The Matrix, you’ve been making us promises for years. And yet the only robot I have access to is a Roomba.

Seriously? A vacuum cleaner. How exciting. I guess it beats a colon cleaner.

We interrupt this post for a message from Ricky’s agent, Ricky (no relation).

I would like to apologize for this post. It was written in a sleep-deprived haze, fueled entirely by caffeine. Ricky has strong opinions on the subject of robots. However, his boss needed him to do some database fiddling, so he had to leave this post incomplete…

…JUST LIKE SCIENCE AND THE ROBOTS.

Note from Ricky’s agent, Ricky’s agent, Ricky (some relation, but we don’t talk about that side of the family since the Thanksgiving incident):

Oh, sorry. I just remembered that Jan asked me (Ricky, not Ricky or Ricky) to write about being a teacher’s kid.

My mom was a teacher. A fantastic and real good awesome one.

And clearly she made me special.

So take note, Science…and go make me a special robot!